Cashmere fibre comes from the downy undercoat of a goat whose origins trace back to the Kashmir region of the Himalayas. On average, one cashmere goat produces 170 to 227gr of cashmere fibre a year. That's between 400 to 470 yards of worsted-weight yarn. An average sweater takes over 1400 yards of the same weight yarn. This rareness, as well as the luxuriousness of cashmere, make recycling expensive cashmere sweaters a good idea.
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Unravel the Sweater
For knitters, crocheters or weavers cashmere yarn is a prize that can be recycled into something brand new. However, not all sweaters are candidates for unravelling. Look at the seams on the inside of the sweater. If you see cut ends, the sweater was cut from cashmere cloth and sewn together. That means when you unravel it, you'll get a lot of short pieces of yarn. Instead, look for loops at the seams, which means the sweater pieces were knit and then sewn together. Use sharp scissors or a seam ripper and take the sweater apart--all the pieces. Then find an end and start unravelling. Bundle the yarn into loose hanks by winding it around a piece of cardboard, then tie the ends securely. Hand wash and hang dry the yarn to remove the kinks. You can also dye the yarn at this stage.
Refashion the Sweater
If your cashmere sweater has a turtleneck that makes you feel like a turtle, cut it off. Same with sleeves that are too long, or crew necks that strangle you. For stability before cutting, machine-stitch a half-inch from where you want to cut. Then cover the cut edge with lace or seam binding, or crochet an edging. You can also make a pullover into a cardigan with the same method. If you have two sweaters, put on your Dr. Frankenstein lab coat, and merge them together--use the ruffled hem of one as a collar on the other, or sew contrasting pockets.
In the same way that a car is worth more when stripped for parts, a cashmere sweater can be reduced to pieces that have more value than the sweater. For example, sleeves can become arm warmers, mittens or fingerless gloves. A rectangle cut from the back of a sweater can become a bonnet for a baby. If the sweater has an interesting texture, stitch pattern or colour work, use it for a pillow top. Sew long strips from pieces cut from several sweaters and braid them for a warm and very distinctive scarf.
Felt the Sweater
Wool and other animal fibres have microscopic barbs along their shaft length. When you add water, soap and agitation, those barbs grab onto each other and create a solid fabric called "felt." The characteristic soft silkiness of cashmere also makes it somewhat unsuitable for felting--it has fewer barbs. It will felt, but much slower than wool or mohair, and you may loose the lustre of the fibre. However, if the cashmere is blended with wool or mohair, it will felt much easier.
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